Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '97 - Justin LaLiberty ""

Friday, December 8, 2017

Underrated '97 - Justin LaLiberty

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in Critical Film Studies and Film Preservation in Archiving. He is currently responsible for programming at Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY and is an itinerant projectionist, ready to run reels if you've got 'em. He is a regular contributor to Paracinema and can usually be found in whichever NYC art-house is showing the most sordid content on a given day.
GRIDLOCK’D and GANG RELATED (Vondie Curtis-Hall, Jim Kouf)
In the year following his death, Tupac Shakur would star in two genre films that would solidify him as one of the best musicians turned actors we would ever see. Vondie Curtis-Hall’s freewheeling drug comedy/drama crime film GRIDLOCK’D is HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT for the Tarantino era with a vibrant script and Tupac playing opposite a frenetic Tim Roth – an inspired pairing that joins the ranks of the great buddy cinema duos. Jim Kouf’s GANG RELATED, a police procedural where nothing is what it seems, pairs Tupac with Jim Belushi as well as a supporting cast featuring the likes of James Earl Jones and Dennis Quaid. It’s a clever, tight crime film that should be mentioned in the same breath as other policers of that year like COP LAND and DONNIE BRASCO but seldom, if ever, does.
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OFFICE KILLER (Cindy Sherman)
Famed photographer Cindy Sherman turned in this blackest of black comedies featuring Molly Ringwald as an office worker turned killer who offs her co-workers in some surprisingly nasty ways. Another entry in the strange trend of hip NYC artists directing feature films in the 90s, including Julian Schnabel’s BASQUIAT and Robert Longo’s JOHNNY MNEMONIC. Sherman does some great work here, and it looks beautiful as expected, but it has never reached the audience it deserves – striking hard to ignore similarities to SERIAL MOM and AMERICAN PSYCHO. Oh, and Todd Haynes helped write the dialogue. So there’s that.
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BREAKDOWN (Jonathan Mostow)
You know what would be better than DUEL? DUEL starring Kurt Russell and JT Walsh. Wonderfully taut, meat and potatoes genre cinema from a major studio – the likes of which we rarely see anymore. Written and directed by Jonathan Mostow (U-571, TERMINATOR 3).
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U-TURN (Oliver Stone)
I don’t always like Oliver Stone, but when I do, I really do. Based on the book Stray Dogs by John Ridley (who would go on to script 12 YEARS A SLAVE), this is savage neo-noir cinema with a stellar cast including Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Jon Voight, Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Bob Thornton and, yeah, Sean Penn. Mean spirited and relentlessly nasty, it was almost exclusively maligned by critics when it came out and still hasn’t really found its audience. The cast of weird characters feels in line with WILD AT HEART, it has more to say about America in the late 90s than pretty much any other film of the year and the music is composed by Ennio Morricone.
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DRIVE (Steve Wang)
I live for this type of 90s DTV, no holds barred action cinema – including pretty much anything starring Mark Dacascos. Absurdly plotted sci-fi cinema where Dascascos plays an “enhanced” human on the run from the Chinese mob and pairs up with Malik (Kadeem Hardison) who he actually takes hostage. It’s really just an inconsequential way to get the two to partner in a bunch of fight scenes and have some buddy action movie banter. The fight scenes here are the real highlight and they’re plentiful and intense, deftly directed by special effects maven and THE GUYVER director Steve Wang.
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HIDEOUS! (Charles Band)
Leave it to Charles Band to create the world's only mutant soap opera. If nothing else, putting a topless, gun wielding woman in a gorilla mask exclaiming "I am proud! I am woman!" may be the most progressive thing that Full Moon has done. Pure trash spectacle.
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MEAN GUNS (Albert Pyun)
I know that a title isn’t everything but you just know exactly what you’re getting when you turn on a movie titled MEAN GUNS that’s directed by Albert Pyun, especially when your two leads are Christopher Lambert and Ice-T. A relentless, two hour onslaught of violence where 100 gangsters are put inside a prison and given weapons to go all out on each other. It’s like the 90s DTV mash-up of BATTLE ROYALE and RIKI-OH you didn’t know you needed in your life.
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EVE’S BAYOU (Kasi Lemmons)
Between EVE’S BAYOU and THE CAVEMAN’S VALENTINE, Kasi Lemmons is one of the more unheralded, unique voices in American cinema of the late 90s/early 2000s. EVE’S BAYOU is a coming of age film punctuated with family turmoil and voodoo, unapologetically from a specific place and people. Lemmons serves as both writer and director and assembled a diverse crew including a female DP, editor and costume designer. And the principle cast is 100% African American. This is singular work and deserves to be known much more than it is.
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THE RAGE (Sidney J. Furie)
From the director of SUPERMAN IV, LADYBUGS and THE ENTITY comes Gary Busey being a maniac in THE RAGE! Busey is at his unhinged best as a “deranged pervert” who wields a machete and tosses around severed heads. He’s being pursued by the 90s best renegade, Lorenzo Lamas who’s boss is Roy Scheider – playing the corrupt law enforcement role with alternate zeal and sleepiness. Oh, and David Carradine shows up for some reason. Dumb, violent 90s DTV cinema that makes inspired use of a log truck.
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